If you want to start a hot debate, try posting an article titled, “This is what happened when I drove my Mercedes to pick up food stamps,” and watch all hell break lose.
That’s what happened when Darlena Cunha shared her life story – and saw more than 5,000 people weigh in on it.
Cunha said her life changed dramatically in 2008, when her husband lost his job. Making matters worse, the housing market collapsed three weeks after the couple closed on a new home, and she was pregnant with twins.
The family went from making a combined $120,000 a year to making just $25,000, and after the twins were born, they turned to government assistance to get through the lean times.
One of the assets the Cunhas held onto during this difficult time was her husband’s 2003 Mercedes Kompressor, which was paid off.
Cunha documented her story in an essay published earlier this week in The Washington Post, offering a reasonable explanation of why they kept the car. She wrote about having to take the Mercedes one day to pick up her food stamps. The reaction to the column was intense.
Supportive comments poured in, including this one:
“The story is about the psychological impact of finding one’s self in unexpected circumstances. Keeping the Mercedes was not about rationality. It was about hanging on to the one last element of dignity. It would be interesting if some of you “critics” get a chance to walk in her shoes. Only then would you understand it.”
But for every positive comment, there were plenty of disparaging ones, like these:
“If you were so broke why didn’t you sell the Mercedes and buy a cheap, used Civic? And Mercedes are NOT known for being reliable. I’m calling B.S. on this whole thing.”
“What was I to do? Make a personal sacrifice of my luxury car (probably worth 6 mortgage payments at that time.) before asking for assistance? What, you want me to drive a Ford Focus? This whole thing screams entitlement to me.”
“I think the story of the Mercedes is one of making emotional choices over rational choices. This story is full of the pitfalls of getting over extended due to bad choices. Keeping a Mercedes when you are broke is a really bad choice.”
“I’m happy that this woman and her family are again doing well, but it doesn’t seem that her bad experience has taught her anything or changed her insufferable attitude.”
Cunha ended her essay by saying, “President Obama’s programs — from the extended unemployment benefits to the tax-free allowance for short-selling a home we couldn’t afford — allowed us to crawl our way out of the hole.”
She also took a shot at “conservative politicians” for passing judgment on the disadvantaged, saying she did the same thing to herself.
Cunha was overwhelmed by the massive response to her story and now plans to write a book.
“The story of how I drove my husband’s Mercedes to the WIC Office is mine, yes,” she wrote in a blog post Thursday. ” But obviously it struck a tender nerve because, stripped down, it is the story of so many more.”
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